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The Garden of Auction

In Footloose, Ren McCormick reminds us that Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is a time to every purpose under heaven, including (but not limited to) a time to dance. It also says there's a time to kill, but we'll leave the vagaries of that one to John Grisham and move along to our point, which is this: in times such as these, when funding the arts is fraught with so many difficulties, there must also be a time to auction off stuff. And perhaps a bit too much time, in the case of the New Music Works' Avant Garden Party.

Maybe it was the high expectations after last year's splendid event. But a quick comparison yields notable differences: two Angelfish were delightful, but last year's seven Aquamaids were sublime. And while I couldn't keep an accurate count of musical performances (and I hate to judge in such mathematical terms), there were considerably fewer of them this time around, in large part because of the move from a silent auction to this year's lots-of-things-except-silent auction. To his credit, auctioneer Bruce Bratton kept the thing entertaining, even when he grumpily put his foot down to postpone the auction due to what were admittedly embarrassingly low bids. But some were high and healthy, perhaps goaded on by Erik Satie's adorable Furniture Music pieces performed by the New Music Works Ensemble in between bids. And of course we're rooting for big bucks going to NMW, for which the entire event is a fundraiser in the first place. But the truth is that blatant fundraising is just not as enjoyable as, at last year's party, the four straight hours of more music than one person can possibly listen to scattered about a lovely estate like some kind of musical be-in. Maybe it was best that the "Vexations Stations" were left vacant, but they still would have offered more alternatives, more opportunities to hear something you've never heard before.

A standout performance by Dror and the dunes featured Rhythm Fusion owner Dror Sinai on the darbuka, bender and cajou, along with Aza members Mohamed Aoualou (guitar) and Fattah Abbou (banjor, sentir, oud) performing lively North African Music. Being acoustic and unplugged, their set was easy to miss with so much tempting food in the pool area, but a seat up close rewarded the listener with transporting harmonies and the obvious delight of the performers engaged in their craft.

I Am a Lonesome Young 'Un

The kid's got talent--loads of it. In fact it really wouldn't be fair for Jackie Greene to have such a knack for Americana music if he wasn't sharing it with the rest of us. But he is, so we'll let it go and just puzzle over this folk prodigy.

It's a peculiar thing to hear a 23-year-old kid doing something we're used to hearing guys like Guy Clark, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan do: singing about feelin' like a hound dog and being heartbroke and jealous, wanderin' around the land lookin' fer ... well, you get the point. He nails the whole Americana persona in his songs, but his between-song banter reveals what looks like a shy, dorky kid who's not 100 percent sure how to relate to an audience that's been around the block a whole lot more times than he has. Not that I've seen every arrow in the young lad's quiver, but until he starts singing about living in Placerville and Sac, until he starts using imagery culled from his own experiences (has he really ever seen a hound dog howlin' at the moon?), he'll always be the prodigy deriving his career from the paths of the real wanderers. You know, the ones who came with the dust and are gone with the wind or what have you. Granted, it's an age-old criticism that's been leveled at singers like Gillian Welch and Dylan himself And damn, the kid plays a mean harmonica and piano, plus he's got a great voice. If only Guthrie-Wan Kenobi were here, he'd make sure the kid becomes a master.

Mike Connor

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From the June 9-16, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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